2021 Week 15 NFL Picks

Pick of the Week

NE +2.5 @ IND

High Confidence Picks

KC -3 @ LAC

BAL +9.5 vs. GB

Medium Confidence Picks

DAL -10.5 @ NYG

TEN +1.5 @ PIT

JAX -5 vs. HOU

NYJ +10.5 @ MIA

PHI -6.5 vs. WAS

Low Confidence Picks

SF -8.5 vs. ATL

CIN +3 @ DEN

CLE +3 vs. LV

DET +12.5 vs. ARZ

NO +11 @ TB

No Confidence Picks

CAR +14 @ BUF

LAR -7 vs. SEA

CHI +6 vs. MIN

Upset Picks

TEN +105 vs. PIT

NE +115 vs. IND

Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (5-8) at Los Angeles Rams (9-4)

The Rams were the third team to have a game rescheduled because of COVID this week. They actually had more cases than Washington or Cleveland at one point, knocking out about half of their roster, but it never affected their quarterback room and, overall, they had less significant absences than the other two teams whose games were rescheduled. Rescheduling this game for a couple days later allowed the Rams to get edge defender Von Miller back and, while they will still be without top safety Jordan Fuller and stud right tackle Rob Havenstein, they will get back top cornerback Jalen Ramsey and talented center Brian Allen, who both missed last week’s win over the Cardinals and are probably more impactful losses.

Meanwhile, the Seahawks are arguably more impacted by COVID absences then their opponents. They don’t have as many positive cases overall as the Rams, but will be without top cornerback DJ Reed, starting right tackle Brandon Shell, talented wide receiver Tyler Lockett, and starting running back Alex Collins, so they are arguably missing more impactful players than the Rams will be, as many of the Rams positives are players that don’t make much of an impactful.

This Seahawks team is still better than their record, now that quarterback Russell Wilson is back to 100% and leading a more effective offense, to complement their 21st ranked schedule adjusted defensive efficiency and their 5th ranked special teams efficiency, but I still have the Rams calculated as 7.5-point favorites in this game, so we’re getting some line value with them as touchdown favorites. The Rams rank 6th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency and, even not quite at 100%, they are still one of the top teams in the league. It’s not nearly enough value to bet on the Rams, especially given all of the uncertainty in this game, but the Rams are the pick for pick ‘em purposes.

Los Angeles Rams 27 Seattle Seahawks 19

Pick against the spread: LA Rams -7

Confidence: None

Washington Football Team at Philadelphia Eagles: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Washington Football Team (6-7) at Philadelphia Eagles (6-7)

Earlier this week, the Eagles were 4-point home favorites in this game and I was strongly considering placing a bet on them. Both teams are 6-7, but the Eagles have a much better point differential at +46 (12th in the NFL), as opposed to -58 for Washington (24th in the NFL), as Washington has benefited from a 5-3 record in one-score games, while the Eagles are 1-4, with five of their six wins coming by double digits. Since the start of the week, Washington has had a COVID outbreak big enough to reschedule this game, including the potential absence of their top two quarterbacks, among other key players, but this line has only jumped to 6.5 for this rescheduled game on Tuesday night, which is barely enough of an adjustment for the non-quarterbacks who are missing this game for Washington.

That line suggests that Washington is expected to be healthier than currently expected, but that is still a big if at this point and, even if expected starting quarterback Taylor Heinicke is able to play, my calculated line is still Philadelphia -7, so we’re getting line value with them regardless. If both Heinicke and backup Kyle Allen are out, as well as top offensive lineman Brandon Scherff and two of their best defensive players, safety Kamren Curl and cornerback Kendall Fuller, my calculated line would favor the Eagles by 10, which would give us significant line value.

The Eagles haven’t been totally immune to losing players to COVID protocols and will be without starting guard Landon Dickerson, but their offensive line is still healthier than they have been for a lot of the season, while their defense is as healthy as they’ve been in weeks. The Eagles rank 10th, 15th, 17th, and 9th respectively in offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency and are arguably better than that in their current state, while Washington is currently expected to start a third string quarterback and be without several key players. This is likely to be the Eagles’ six double digit win (and Washington’s fifth double digit loss), so I want to lock this in at +6.5 before the line increases to a touchdown or higher.

Philadelphia Eagles 27 Washington Football Team 17

Pick against the spread: Philadelphia -6.5

Confidence: Medium

Las Vegas Raiders at Cleveland Browns: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Las Vegas Raiders (6-7) at Cleveland Browns (7-6)

Earlier in the week, the Raiders were 6.5-point underdogs and I liked them a lot at that number. That line swung from favoring the Browns by just a field goal on the early line and I typically like fading significant week-to-week line movements, as they tend to be an overreaction to a single week of play. In this case, the line movement was due entirely to the Raiders getting blown out 48-9 by the Chiefs last week, but the Chiefs are one of the best teams in the league and teams tend to bounce back after a blowout loss, covering the spread at a 58.2% rate all-time after a loss by 35 points or more, in large part because they tend to be undervalued, which the Raiders were as 6.5-point underdogs in Cleveland.

The Raiders’ point differential of -77 is much worse than their record, as they have been blown out on several occasions, including last week. That would normally suggest they are worse than their record, but they have faced a tough schedule overall and have largely underperformed on third and fourth downs relative to their early down performance, which tends to be the kind of thing that evens out in the long run. The Raiders rank 16th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency and 9th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, but are just 31st and 17th respectively in third and fourth down conversion percentage and just 27th in both third and fourth down conversion percentage allowed. 

However, the Browns have since had a large COVID outbreak among their players and coaches, forcing this game to be pushed back from Saturday Night Football to Monday Night Football and causing the Browns to be without several key players, as well as members of their coaching staff. Their situation is not as bad as it would have been if they had to play Saturday, but they will be without their top two quarterbacks Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum, starting left tackle Jedrick Wills, starting tight end Austin Hooper, top wide receiver Jarvis Landry, talented edge defender Jadeveon Clowney, primary slot cornerback Troy Hill, and starting safety Ronnie Harrison.

As a result, this line has shifted all the way to favoring the Raiders by a field goal on the road, a massive 9.5-point mid-week shift. That seems to be an overreaction as the Browns have a competent third quarterback in Nick Mullens, who has been serviceable (87.2 QB rating) across 16 career starts and has been with the team on the practice squad for a few months, while the rest of their losses aren’t damaging enough for this line to shift like this. 

The Browns still have feature back Nick Chubb, talented backup D’Ernest Johnson, and the most talented interior offensive line in the NFL, allowing them to lean on their running game in a big way, while their defense still has edge defender Myles Garrett, cornerback Denzel Ward, safety John Johnson, and linebacker Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, probably their four best defensive players on a defense that ranks 7th in schedule adjusted efficiency. Their offense, meanwhile, ranks 17th in schedule adjusted efficiency, in large part due to their offensive line and running game, as their passing game has been below average for most of the season, with Mayfield struggling through injuries for most of the year. 

The Raiders have also not been the same on offense since losing top wide receiver Henry Ruggs and stud tight end Darren Waller, while their defense will be without two of their top three cornerbacks, with both Trayvon Mullen and Nate Dobbs out for this game. Missing those key players, the Raiders don’t deserve to be favorites of a field goal on the road against a team with a still competent roster, even given the circumstances. 

My calculated line actually still has the Browns favored by a point at home. I don’t want to bet them, given that they are missing multiple coaches as well and had a chaotic week with minimal practice, while the Raiders will still be motivated to bounce back from last week’s blowout loss, but the Browns are the pick for pick ‘em purposes, as we are getting a full field goal with them and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if they pulled the upset and won straight up.

Las Vegas Raiders 24 Cleveland Browns 23

Pick against the spread: Cleveland +3

Confidence: Low

Green Bay Packers at Baltimore Ravens: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Green Bay Packers (10-3) at Baltimore Ravens (8-5)

Player absences have been a big theme in games this week and this game is no different, except for the fact that most of the absences in this game are injury related, rather than COVID. In addition to the sheer amount of players expected to miss this game, which I will get into later, there is also a significant amount of uncertainty because the Ravens don’t know if quarterback Lamar Jackson will be able to play through an ankle sprain and, even if he does play, his effectiveness would be a question, given how much he is dependent on his athleticism and how he has been struggling already in recent weeks.

The odds makers seem to think the Ravens will be without Jackson, shooting this line up to favor the Packers by a touchdown in Baltimore, after favoring them by just 1.5 points on the early line a week ago. Jackson is far from the Ravens’ only injury concern and not their only new absence or potential absence either. Already without stud left tackle Ronnie Stanley, their two best running backs JK Dobbins and Gus Edwards, starting defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, starting cornerback Marcus Peters and starting safety De’Shon Elliott for an extended period of time, the Ravens are now without starting left guard Ben Powers, top defensive lineman Calais Campbell, starting safety Chuck Clark, top cornerback Marlon Humphrey, and his would-be replacement Jimmy Smith.

The Ravens are 8-5, but they haven’t been as good as their record even when they were healthier, as they have gone 6-3 in one score games and rank 14th, 24th, 1st, and 11th respectively in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency. The Packers have their own injury issues though and it doesn’t seem like this line has fully taken those into account, as this is an inflated line even if Jackson plays and is replaced by backup Tyler Huntley, an unproven, but promising replacement. 

The Packers have been banged up all season long, but the hits have kept coming in recent weeks. Already with a long-term absent list of left tackle David Bakhtiari, edge defender Za’Darius Smith, and cornerback Jaire Alexander, three of the best players in the league at their respective positions, as well as starting center Josh Myers and starting tight end Robert Tonyan, the Packers in recent weeks have lost slot receiver Randall Cobb, top defensive lineman Kenny Clark, and another two starters on the offensive line, Elgton Jenkins and Billy Turner.

The Packers are 10-3 despite all of this, but they haven’t fared as well in more predictive metrics like first down rate and yards per play and, as previously mentioned, their injury situation is only getting worse. In terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, which is based on these metrics, the Packers rank 11th, 9th, and 32nd respectively on offense, defense, and special teams respectively, while ranking just 18th in mixed efficiency. One of their losses came without Aaron Rodgers, while a fluky blowout loss to the Saints week one skews their efficiency ratings, but missing all they are missing, it’s hard to argue the Packers are as good as their 10-3 record, at least right now.

The Ravens definitely aren’t as good as their record either, especially if Jackson sits or is heavily limited, but this line has swung too far in the Packers’ direction given all they are missing as well. In addition to their injuries, the Packers have also not been as good away from home in Aaron Rodgers’ career, unsurprising given that Rodgers’ 10 point QB rating drop off from home to away is well above average, and that has continued into this season, as their only road victory that would have covered this 7-point spread came in a 10-point win in Chicago in a game that was closer than the final score against a Bears team that the Ravens beat without Jackson a few weeks ago. 

Even without taking the Packers’ relative road struggles into account, my calculated line has the Packers favored by just 3.5 points, even if Huntley plays or Jackson is heavily limited. I am not really making much distinction between a limited Jackson and Tyler Huntley in my roster rankings and I would take the Ravens as touchdown home underdogs regardless, so I want to lock this one in now, as the line could drop on game day if Jackson ends up being able to play.

Update: It seems like Jackson is out, as this line has shifted to 9.5. I already assumed he would be out when I bet on the Ravens at +7, so I am going to increase this bet at the higher number. The Packers have just one double digit road win all season and Tyler Huntley is a promising backup quarterback.

Green Bay Packers 24 Baltimore Ravens 20

Pick against the spread: Baltimore +9.5

Confidence: High

Minnesota Vikings at Chicago Bears: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Minnesota Vikings (6-7) at Chicago Bears (4-9)

The Vikings have drawn a lot of attention for keeping all of their losses close, not losing by more than 8 points all season, but two of their losses required pick sixes to make the margin of defeat smaller than it otherwise would have and most of their wins have been close as well, with just one win by multiple scores. They could easily have a couple more wins, which tends to be well-known with this team, but they also easily could have a couple more losses, which tends to get left out of the analysis. Overall, they are a slightly below average team, despite the fact that they haven’t been blown out, ranking 15th, 28th, 6th, and 21st in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency.

The Vikings’ tendency to play close games is especially relevant considering the Vikings are 6-point road favorites in this game, with just three of their margins of victory being enough to cover this number, including just one on the road, a 7-point win in Los Angeles against the Chargers. That being said, it’s hard to be confident in the Bears too, as they are a well below average team that is dealing with a significant amount of absent players. On the season, the Bears rank 27th, 20th, 3rd, and 25th in schedule adjusted offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency, which is only about a couple points behind the Vikings, but the Bears are in much worse shape than that right now. 

Already without their top defensive player for the year, with stud edge defender Khalil Mack injured, the Bears will also be without one of their most important offensive players, talented left tackle Jason Peters, while starting wide receiver Allen Robinson headlines a group of 11 players added to the COVID list this week, a list that could keep growing. My calculated line right now has the Vikings as 4.5-point favorites, so we’re getting some line value with the Bears at +6, but I can’t take them with any confidence right now. If they can avoid more COVID cases, I may increase the confidence on this pick, but that’s a big if at this point.

Minnesota Vikings 22 Chicago Bears 17

Pick against the spread: Chicago +6

Confidence: None

Cincinnati Bengals at Denver Broncos: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Cincinnati Bengals (7-6) at Denver Broncos (7-6)

These two teams are pretty similar. Both teams are 7-6 and in the playoff mix a year after finishing well below .500 and both teams have point differentials that are better than their records, with the Bengals at +61 and the Broncos at +47. However, both teams have also faced among the easiest schedules in the league. In schedule adjusted efficiency, the Bengals rank 21st, 17th, and 15th on offense, defense, and special teams respectively, while the Broncos rank 18th, 5th, and 29th and have a slight edge in mixed efficiency, ranking 17th, about a point ahead of the 19th ranked Bengals.

My roster rankings still have the Bengals about a point better though, mostly due to the Bengals’ significant edge at the quarterback position. The Broncos have performed about evenly with the Bengals, despite their significant quarterback disadvantage, but my roster rankings suggest they have overachieved to do so. The Bengals have a pair of significant absences in this game, missing starting right tackle Riley Reiff and top cornerback Chidobe Awuzie, but the Broncos are shorthanded as well, missing a pair of key front seven players Malik Reed and Dre’mont Jones, as well as talented right guard Graham Glasgow.

The line, favoring the Broncos by a full field goal at home, suggests they are the slightly better team, but I think it’s the other way around, so we’re getting some line value with the Bengals, who I have calculated as just 1-point underdogs. It’s not enough to bet on the Bengals confidently and I still have the Broncos winning straight up, but the Bengals should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes as these two teams are no worse than even and this line suggests the Broncos are the slightly better team.

Denver Broncos 27 Cincinnati Bengals 26

Pick against the spread: Cincinnati +3

Confidence: Low

Carolina Panthers at Buffalo Bills: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Carolina Panthers (5-8) at Buffalo Bills (7-6)

The Bills have had a weird season. They are 7-6 and barely hanging out to a playoff spot, but five of their six losses have come by one score, while their seven wins have all come by 15 points or more, meaning they are 0-5 in close games and could easily have a couple more wins at least. As a result, their point differential of +134 ranks 2nd in the NFL. Their schedule has been one of the easier in the league, but even with that taken into account, the Bills rank 7th, 1st, and 14th in offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency, while leading the league in mixed efficiency. 

However, their success has been primarily concentrated against their weaker opponents, as they are just 1-5 against teams who are .500 or better. Some of those games could have gone the other way fairly easily, but it’s a concern for the Bills as they try to make a deep playoff run. The Panthers are more in line with the teams the Bills normally blow out, but, as bad as their offense is (31st in schedule adjusted efficiency), their defense is still one of the best in the league (3rd in schedule adjusted efficiency), so they’re not a complete pushover and the Bills are not as healthy as they were for their blowout victories this season. 

The big blow for the Bills was losing top cornerback Tre’Davious White for the season a few weeks ago, but they will also be without starting left tackle Dion Dawkins and starting wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in this game, while quarterback Josh Allen could be limited with a foot injury. I still have the Bills calculated as 10.5-point favorites, but this line is at 12, so we’re getting some line value with the Panthers, albeit not significant value. 

The Panthers are also in a little bit better of a spot as the Bills could be looking forward to their rematch with the Patriots next week and could either give less than their best effort or take their foot off the gas with a big lead and allow a backdoor cover. I’m still hesitant to go against a team that has blown out so many teams this season, so this is a no confidence pick, but the Bills are banged up and the Panthers aren’t as bad as most of the teams the Bills have blown out, so I expect this to be closer than the Bills’ other victories.

Update: Derrick Brown has been ruled out for the Panthers with COVID, but the line has adjusted appropriately, moving up to 14, so I am still on the Panthers for a no confidence pick at the new number.

Buffalo Bills 26 Carolina Panthers 13

Pick against the spread: Carolina +14

Confidence: None

New Orleans Saints at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

New Orleans Saints (6-7) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (10-3)

The Saints have arguably been the most affected team in the league by injuries. Not only have they had a high volume of players miss time, but many of those players have been in and out of the lineup, making them very inconsistent week-to-week. The Saints’ offense bounced back from a rough prior stretch last week, in the return of feature back Alvin Kamara and stud left tackle Terron Armstead, but that also came against a Jets team with arguably the worst defense in the league and Armstead will be back on the sidelines this week

Armstead will be joining fellow talented tackle Ryan Ramcyzk on the sidelines, meaning the Saints will be down three starting offensive linemen total again, including left guard Andrus Peat, who got hurt earlier this year. Even though they will have Kamara this time around, missing those three offensive linemen has proven to be a very difficult situation for this offense this year. Along with Peat, the Saints have also been without top wide receiver Michael Thomas and starting quarterback Jameis Winston for an extended period of time and, as of last week, they are also without talented wide receiver Deonte Harris due to a suspension, leaving an offense that already ranks just 23rd in schedule adjusted efficiency in pretty rough shape.

On the other hand, however, their defense might be as complete as it’s been all season, as they have dealt with numerous absences, most notably on the defensive line. They still are not 100% on the defensive line, but the players they are missing are rotational/role players and with defensive end Cameron Jordan returning from a one-game COVID absence, the Saints will have their talented trio of David Onyemata, Cameron Jordan, and Marcus Davenport together for just the 5th game this season. Despite their injuries, the Saints still rank 4th in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency and, with the aforementioned trio together again and the talent they have behind them as well, it’s arguable this defense is the best in the league.

Given that, I think they are a little undervalued as 11-point road underdogs in Tampa Bay, despite their offensive issues. The Buccaneers are arguably the best team in the league, even without their top cornerback Jamel Dean, who will miss this game due to injury, but I still only have them calculated as 9.5-point favorites over a Saints team that is more competent than they are being given credit for. There isn’t enough here for the Saints to be worth betting, but I like them for pick ‘em purposes.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 28 New Orleans Saints 19

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +11

Confidence: Low

Arizona Cardinals at Detroit Lions: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (10-3) at Detroit Lions (1-11-1)

The Cardinals went 2-1 in the three games that Kyler Murray missed, but when Murray returned I said the Cardinals were in more trouble than that suggested, as they faced a relatively easy schedule without Murray and still had just an even point differential in those three games, due to injury absences beyond Murray. In addition to Murray being out, the Cardinals were also without top wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins and talented left guard Justin Pugh on offense, while their defense was without one of their best players, interior defender JJ Watt. The Cardinals won Murray’s first game back, but they needed to win the turnover battle by 4 to beat the Bears by 11 and then last week the Cardinals lost at home to the Rams, who were missing key players due to COVID protocols.

Hopkins returned for the past two games and Pugh returned last week, but Hopkins is now out indefinitely, while Pugh was still very limited in practice this week and, even if Pugh does play, the Cardinals will be without at least one offensive line starter, with center Rodney Hudson in COVID protocols, so Murray will have less help than he has had since returning. Meanwhile, their defense has really not been the same without Watt, who will now be joined on the sidelines by top cornerback Robert Alford, which is another big loss for this defense, given how thin they are at the cornerback position.

Given that, it’s hard to justify them being 12.5-point favorites on the road. The Cardinals are facing the Lions, who have the league’s worst record, but the Lions are at home and they have been competitive in most of their games, as just four of their 13 games has resulted in a loss that would have led to the Lions failing to cover a 12.5-point spread. The Cardinals could also overlook the Lions, with this game sandwiched in between a tough loss to the Rams and a much tougher game against the Colts on deck next week. Favorites of a touchdown or more cover at just a 43.4% rate all-time before facing an opponent with a winning percentage more than 40% higher than their current opponent’s winning percentage and that applies here.

The Lions are short-handed as well, again missing tight end TJ Hockenson and running back D’Andre Swift, who both missed the Lions’ blowout loss in Denver last week, but they got center Evan Brown back and could also get back both running back Jamaal Williams and safety Tracy Walker, which would be big re-additions. Depending on the status of those players and other key questionable players (Pugh, Cardinals tight end Zach Ertz, Lions left guard Jonah Jackson), I may place a bet on the Lions, but there is a lot of uncertainty here right now.

Update: Tracy Walker is playing, but Jamaal Williams is out, as is Jonah Jackson, while both Justin Pugh and Zach Ertz will play for the Cardinals. I am leaving this as a low confidence pick.

Arizona Cardinals 27 Detroit Lions 17

Pick against the spread: Detroit +12.5

Confidence: Low